For the third time since he came into the store, Richard got up from the chair across from me and started pacing.
“Are you sure he was serious about the Hartley book?” he asked.
“He was serious.” I responded.
“It doesn’t look like much.”
“It means something to him, obviously. He said he would send me the details of the meet by 3 o’clock.”
Richard glanced at his watch. “2:40.”
I nodded.
“What if he doesn’t call?”
“Then he doesn’t call. We know where we can find him. And in that place, we are almost guaranteed privacy.”
Richard sat back down again.
“Something just doesn’t sit right. My father, from whom I have been long estranged, is reading Bruno Schulz’ “The Street of Crocodiles” shortly before he dies. There is evidence that he read the book multiple times, and passages are highlighted in yellow throughout, a habit he despised in other readers his whole life. Why then? What suddenly spoke to him after a steady lifetime diet of sci-fi? What made him connect to squiggles on paper in ways that he could not with his own son? And what contempt led his son to give that book, along with others, to a used bookstore in Brampton, in exchange for thirty pieces of silver disguised as a small selection from the works of Louis L’Amour? When this act was regretted some months later, was it serendipity or another agonizing turn of the screw that led the proprietor there to remember that the copy was purchased by the owner of a used bookstore in Flesherton? As luck would have it, the copy had sold, but that self-same owner while in the grips of a pizza-fueled delirium, identifies the purchaser, and traces him to a Shelburne restaurant that only sells pioneer food. There, he makes a deal with the devil to swap a signed copy of a novel I’ve never heard of not for my father’s former copy, but for the one highlighted passage in it that will result in everything making sense to me. Doesn’t that pretty well sum it up?”
“It does, but not without resorting to that tiresome device of a character recapping the story thus far intended to bring the inattentive reader back into the story. It usually occurs somewhere between halfway and three-quarters of the way through in most popular entertainment, at a point where the writer is almost certain the viewer has been lost. I’ve never quite figured out if it’s a lack of faith in the intelligence of the viewer, the need to fill more space or just plain laziness.”
“Look to thyself, scribe.”
“I resent that. I’m not writing, I’m recording.”
“Whatever it is, I ought to be grateful. I guess I was allowing myself to get all worked up from this interior life I’ve been given and would have spiraled out of control had you not distracted me with a writing trick. Hey, aren’t you worried about giving away trade secrets in this story?”
“No worries. Nobody reads these posts anyways.”
“What are we doing again?” he asked, suddenly confused.
“We’re waiting for Dr. Steve to respond with details on the meet.”
“It’s now 2:50. Should I give the reader another recap?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Don’t you think if I’ve forgotten what’s going on, they might do the same?”
“Who is ‘they’?”
“I don’t know.” He paused, reflecting. “You could make something happen.”
“This is Flesherton. We’ve already established that nothing happens. Although somebody did create a whole TV series where nothing happened.”
For the fourth time, he jumped up.
“I know. You could have the driver of a truckload of condemned chickens turn the corner a little too closely, knock down a streetlight and cause a traffic jam and endless cellphone pics.”
“I don’t think anyone would believe it.”
“It’s now 2:57. You have three minutes to fill. What are you going to do?”
Mercifully, his eye was caught by something on the sci-fi/fantasy shelf.
“Have you ever read anything by Anne McCaffrey?:
Before I could answer, my cellphone pinged.
“Is it him?”
I nodded.
“What does it say?”
“I don’t know. It’s in Latin.”
“Are you sure?—”
“I think I know what Latin looks like. I took it in high school.”
“No, I mean, are you sure you want to introduce that element here? It’s just an excuse for another post and you know it. What are you going to do? Find some defrocked priest in Holstein to translate it for you? Just cut to the chase. If you don’t, I’m gone. Try to end this story without me around. Got it?’
I hesitated.
“Got it?”
“So, no defrocked priest in Holstein and no more padding.”